This article first appeared in OTTAWA Magazine May 2014.
Interviews by ERICA WARK
Photography by JESSICA DEEKS
Hair and makeup by Lauren McCarter and Anthonia Bejide
Shot on location at the Fairmont Château Laurier
Nikita and Sonia Vadher of Max’s Footwear Boutique and Cobbler
Erica Wark: I love the fact that Max’s is truly a family-run business. What made you decide to open a shoe repair shop and boutique?
Sonia Vadher: I was born and raised in England. In Europe, it’s all about unique fashion, and that’s what I wanted to bring to Ottawa. My husband grew up in Kenya and has been a cobbler since the age of 16. When we came to Canada in 2000, we decided to open up our own business. At first it was solely a shoe repair shop, but in 2011, we decided to start selling shoes we loved and believed in. Both my children, Nikita and Kishan, work with my husband and me — it’s wonderful!
EW: Nikita, you’re 19 now and helping out at the store. What’s it like having a mom who works in fashion and runs her own business?
Nikita Vadher: I’ve been working there for about two years now. My mom would bring home sample shoes as options to sell in the store. I loved all the colours and styles — plus, lucky for me, I’m sample size, so I got to try them all on and really appreciate them. I love working with her. I’m shy, and working with her in a retail setting has really helped me come out of my shell.
EW: What would you say is the most valuable lesson your mom has taught you?
NV: Treat people the way you would like to be treated. It works in all aspects of life, but in business, I’ve learned, it’s so important to make your customers feel comfortable, as if they’re being welcomed into your home. It’s about being polite and knowing your product so that you can best support your customer.
EW: Now that you’re both invested in the store, how do your different personal styles affect what you sell?
SV: I’m definitely more comfort-conscious. I’m on my feet all day and running around, so it’s important that customers who have similar lifestyles can wear shoes that last all day long.
NV: [Comfort is] usually the last thing on my list. I’d say my style is quite trendy with a European flair. I love colour and high heels. I also wear cute, feminine dresses with rugged ankle boots.
SV: We may have different taste in shoes, but that’s what makes our store so well-rounded. We’re able to offer style and comfort — something I think a lot of men and women in Ottawa can appreciate.
EW: What are your plans for the future of Max’s Footwear?
SV: We just want to thrive and support other local businesses. In today’s tough economy, it’s important that we support others who add uniqueness to our community.
Bianca Hamway & Claudine Saulnier of Manhattan Marque
EW: How did Manhattan Marque come to be?
Claudine Saulnier: My mother opened the store when I was in my early 20s — she’s always been extremely fashionable. She started buying clothing initially for herself and her friends, and it just grew from there.
Bianca Hamway: I lived in Montreal for years. When I moved to Ottawa, I thought there was a shortage of unique clothing, so a friend of mine and I started buying in New York. Sometimes we’d end up with extra pieces that didn’t sell, so I started going to local boutiques to sell the rest to them. When I realized how much demand there was, I figured, why not sell these pieces myself?
EW: Claudine, were you always interested in fashion like your mother?
CS: I actually modelled for years — I was able to travel and work. It was an amazing experience, but ultimately it wasn’t my passion. When I came back to Ottawa and my mom opened the shop, I knew this was my true calling.
EW: Last June you opened a sister boutique, Manhattan West in Westboro. What’s different about the new store?
CS: It caters to a different market — it’s younger, trend-conscious, and modern. My mom and I have similar tastes in a lot of ways. We’re both modern and classic, with a bit of an edge, and that’s what we bring to both our stores. People want to be inspired, and our boutiques do just that.
EW: Bianca, how would you describe your style?
BH: I love to wear neutrals. I’d say I’m classic with a twist. I accessorize everything. I personally do all the jewellery-buying for our stores. I enjoy finding those unique pieces that you really can’t find anywhere else. I’m all about being timeless. That’s what I’m looking for when I’m buying for my customers.
EW: Claudine, have any of your mother’s style tips stuck with you over the years?
CS: Both my mother and grandmother taught me that appearance is important — it’s all about presentation, about putting the best version of yourself forward and taking pride in who you are. My mom came to Ottawa as a single mother of two and worked incredibly hard. She’s an inspiration.
EW: Bianca, you must be so proud that your daughter has helped cultivate such a successful business.
BH: I am extremely proud. I never have to worry — it’s as if I’m there when I can’t physically be at the store. If she wasn’t a part of Manhattan Marque, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. I hope she’ll continue what she’s doing. We love what we do — it never feels like work!
Lydia Stepchuk, Olenka Stepchuk, and Tamara Stepchuk-Forrest of LIDA Boutique
EW: For those in Ottawa who have yet to visit Lida Boutique, tell us about the store.
Tamara Stepchuk-Forrest: It’s a family-run business where my sister, Olenka, my mother, and I are a part of every process. We’re in the store working with our customers, merchandising, buying in New York and Germany — you name it!
Lydia Stepchuk: I studied fashion design in New York, and when I moved to Ottawa, there wasn’t much of a fashion market here, so I decided to open my own retail space. We opened in 1977, and it was the love of my life (next to my family, of course).
EW: What was it like having a mompreneur growing up?
Olenka Stepchuk: It was fun! We lived in Cumberland, so going to the Market to visit my mom at work was always exciting. I remember her always being dressed up and stylish. When I was a teenager, we lived in Westboro, and I was always in the Market. It was my place to go, and I felt very proud to have a family business in town.
TS: My mom opened it without a penny. I was only six at the time. She found a space on Murray Street and started taking in second-hand designer clothing. We went from a 300-square-foot space to three stores at over 9,000 square feet.
EW: Lydia, why do you think it grew to be such a success?
LS: It was all about building trust with my customers, as well as having the dedication, business sense, and passion. I think these are traits that my daughters also have.
EW: What would you say is the most valuable lesson your mom has taught you?
TS: My mom — and the business — taught me to be an independent thinker, a hard worker, and an expert multitasker. She also taught me to be a strong decision maker. There’s no crystal ball — you have to learn to trust yourself and your choices.
OS: She has taught me to always be honest with the customer. “It’s better not to sell to a client to keep a customer than to lose one by selling her something that doesn’t look good on her,” she would say. Also she taught me an amazing work ethic. We are all very hard workers, and I think that comes from our Ukrainian heritage.
EW: Would you say you have similar style sense?
OS: Absolutely. We all have very similar taste, but we wear our clothes differently. We could all wear the same jacket, but each of us would put our own twist on it. My mother taught me a love of colour and art, so that is instilled in the way I dress.
TS: I think we all have a classic eye. My mom has taught me a lot of tricks over the years: you can always make something work, and accessories are golden. When we go buying together, we agree on things we’re shopping for 95 percent of the time.
LS: That’s how we created our customer base — bringing things into the store that we would wear and felt passionate about. I think I’m classic with an edge. I love accessorizing — the creativity comes naturally to me and to my daughter